Asia trip Jan '13

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  1. violist
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    violist Gold Member

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    While in stir last month I came upon a bunch of unsent
    trip reports; reread them, polished them up a little,
    and they'll be coming gradually. Not much else to do flat
    on one's back with two IVs and an A-line.

    UA1509 BOS IAH 0850 1223 319 2A

    The plane was packed with zone oners vying for the usual
    delicious collation: the sausage puck browner than normal,
    the omelet filled with some Swissoid compound. A fruit
    appetizer was relatively sour, hard, and nasty except for
    the grapes, which were surprisingly good.

    Pink yogurt and a squashed but at least buttery croissant
    completed the meal.

    We had a friendly flight attendant who had to be primed but
    thereafter provided very attentive service. This is not
    the way it is supposed to go, but I'll take it in a pinch.

    Thunderstorms in Houston, but despite some reroutes (no
    Channel 9, but the pilot kept us reasonably informed on the
    PA) we landed close to on time.

    A genial bartender at the club sold me more Beam than I
    needed: each pour was more generous, and I think he figured
    he was doing me a favor. I was somewhat overserved when I
    left, and I am glad that I was doing Coke chasers rather
    than water.

    Had a small conversation with a very cute blonde that made
    me wish I were a quarter century younger. Edited to add:
    Shoot, just as I was about to leave for my flight, she
    offered to buy me a drink; I said thank you and left anyway.

    UA1639 IAH SAN 1551 1721 739 2A

    The evocatively named chicken and rice was chicken and
    rice; it came with tomato sauce and green beans. The
    appetizer was one smoked salmon rose. Salad was actually
    reasonably fresh. The other choice was described as
    vegetarian ravioli marinara; I didn't see any go past.
    Dessert: an orange oatmeal raisin cookie.

    To get primed for the trip, I went to a well-reviewed
    place called Taste of the Himalayas, where lamb momos
    tasted pretty much like potstickers from Trader Joe,
    and a lamb curry was a bit on the bland side. I asked for
    something to hot it up, and the waiter brought out a little
    dish ($1 extra) of what appears on the menu as 9-1-1 sauce;
    it's plenty hot and carries some of that rotten fruitiness
    of the C. sinense. The curry thereupon became sufficiently
    hot but not substantially tastier.

    I repaired to my rather nice room at the Hampton and
    snoozed lengthily.

    Met up with lili, who was happy as a schoolgirl in
    anticipation of the trip.

    UA 573 SAN SFO 1311 1450 320 2EF

    No PreCheck here, but the lines were short, and we were
    through in no time flat.

    The club has an odd assortment of provisions. I had three
    bottles of grapefruit juice blend, white grape being number
    one, apple two, ruby red three, colored with of all things
    carmine, which renders it nonvegetarian, which is silly.

    A nice flight, with a rather glum FA who turned out to be
    fine and who supplied all the red wine an elderly pair
    might want.

    It's quite a hike from gate 90 to the international
    terminal, where we made a beeline for the Silver Kris,
    which now appears to be open only for the SQ flights and
    thus was useless for us. It was no great tragedy, as we
    would be fed and watered adequately on our flights.

    Hey, when did they stop giving coupons for premium boozles
    at the Club door? Another change we'll like, Mr. Smisek?

    The free wine on offer was something called Twisted Merlot -
    rather soda-poppy but with more acid and a bit of wood.
    Somewhat unpleasant, and the bartender chuckled at the face
    I made. I bought a $10 worth glass of Stag's Leap Artemis
    Cabernet for lili, much better.

    We spent a pleasant hour and change there, and then it was
    time to head to the gate, where there was an awful scrum.
     
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  2. violist
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    violist Gold Member

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    UA 930 SFO LHR 1700 1125 744 15AB

    It's worth wading through the crowds at the gate to get on
    the queen of the skies, which rumor and commonsense have it
    will gradually be retired in the next few years. I still
    don't see why they can't just retrofit the 747s with more
    efficient engines and keep them going for a long time, but
    my prejudices are talking. It's always an excitement
    climbing those stairs and proceeding to my little palace at
    the exit row. I remember the first time I did so, decades
    ago, as if it were yesterday, and the special feeling still
    persists more than just a little.

    These of course used to be the choicest seats on the, or
    perhaps any US, aircraft, along with row 9 on the P.S. 757.
    Now, with the pods, they are just like all the others. Some
    consider this an improvement, but I liked the old seats
    (disparagingly referred to as Barcaloungers by the young)
    a lot better, especially with all that legroom. Now row 15
    is backward-facing, which is a bit peculiar, though the
    arrangement is a bit disorienting to begin with no matter
    which direction you're pointed.

    It was a perfectly fine flight, with all the cheap red
    plonk one could choke down, but I saved myself for the
    presumably better offerings later. I did try lili's
    Burgans Albarino 11 (Rias Baixas), which was pleasantly
    peachy and insignificant. She also had a bit of red, but
    I was asleep before that was poured. Which meant of course
    that I missed the meal service. I would have liked to see
    what United could do with Newburg-style seafood: fillet of
    turbot and shrimp with a creamy lobster sauce, green lentils
    and mixed vegetables, but my pills were in the carryon and
    I'd have had to get up and rummage around in the closet,
    causing a ruckus, to find them.

    I did wake up in time to partake of breakfast: nasty
    scrambled eggs, semi-nasty potato cake, really horrid spongy
    tasteless turkey sausage. Orange juice.

    After the usual longish walk, transit formalities were easy.

    It was a bit of a trek to Terminal 4, involving threading
    our way through the bowels of the airport and then the
    dreaded bus, but at least the Qatar lounge was easy to find.

    The staff, an assortment of beautiful people (mostly female)
    of various nationalities, were very attentive, perhaps
    overly so. Seating was nice and modern; there was soothing
    but inane middle-eastern-tinted new-age music to provide
    atmosphere. A cafe and a dining room; we chose the latter.

    The bubbly on offer was Veuve La Grande Dame 04, which was
    of a perfect ripeness, just with a tiny edge of oxidation
    that brought out the nuts and lemon aspect. I am always
    amused (lie: I am always outraged) by the vast majority of
    food writers who claim that Champers is best fresh off the
    line - they seem to prize intensity of carbonation above all
    things, either that or they are palate dead, which I suspect
    as well.

    An Arabic mezze plate was pretty tasty and not too dairy
    ridden though extremely starchy: lamb sambousek (like
    samosas), lamb kofta (meatballs), lamb sfiha (lahmejun),
    zaatar manakish (crackers), spinach fatayer (like samosas),
    olives, pickles, Arabic flatbread (like pide but puffier).

    The level of the still wines was not so high, and Chateau La
    Freynelle 09 was charmless, fruitless, and justified only by
    some nice acid and tannin to scour the lamb fat off my
    tongue.

    The cafe, which you walk past on the way to and from the
    dining room, has an amazing selection of snacks and desserts
    - we passed, though perhaps we shouldn't have.

    More quick and painless, and soon we were on our big fancy
    'bus and off to Qatar.
     
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  3. violist
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    violist Gold Member

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    QR 8 LHR DOH 1625 0205 346 12EF

    We got seats in the middle, which was fine, as there's
    nothing to see on the way. Angled lie-flat I think these
    are classified as. Moderately comfy, not so sleepable as the
    old United seats but I thought a bit nicer than the new
    United beds, which were given a fair shake when they first
    came out (verdict: pluses and minuses compared to the old
    product, but not enough room) but are now characterized as
    "slave ship" seating.

    Our meal:

    chicken anticucho - sort of nothing-looking, and I didn't
    bother with it, and what's an anticucho without heart meat
    anyway;

    butternut squash soup; crisp sage leaves, toasted pumpkin
    seeds - pretty good, all told, though the sage leaves and
    pumpkin seeds weren't very crispy;

    an individual selection of smoked beef and salmon tikka;
    parmesan cheese and baby gem salad - pretty decent,
    especially the flakes of cheese with the rather cute but
    insubstantial salad;

    classic arabic mezze; hummus, tabouleh, and muhammra
    served with arabic bread - on the whole rather sour but
    tasty. I reflected on how they probably got used to lots
    of lemon juice to preserve or disguise;

    vegetable makhani and gobi masala; green peas pilau rice,
    chana dal and raita - I don't remember what else there was
    to eat, but it must not have been very exciting, if I was
    reduced to ordering cauliflower. This was, though, fairly
    attention-occupying and tasty;

    white chocolate mousse with raspberries; passion fruit
    coulis - of a richness, but not bad. I can't see why one
    would use white chocolate in essentially a vanilla pudding,
    as all it does is make the texture heavy rather than
    refreshing. The coulis was a kick in the taste buds.

    Ch. Le Bon Pasteur 07 was an excellent Pomerol, and I kept
    it coming for both of us. At one point I got bored and
    called for a glass of the Poggio Antico Altero Brunello di
    Montalcino 06, which was shoelike and not at all ready to
    drink. Thereupon we returned to our scheduled programming.

    Kopke Colheita Port 74 was surprisingly vigorous and
    young-tasting, just beginning to color around the edges.
    The good thing about all that age was that the sweetness
    was kind of muted.

    The flight itself was pleasant enough, and I didn't actually
    use the bed feature, and as a seat the furniture was fine.
    Service was pleasant if a bit too deferential.

    Down airstairs into the chaotic dark. A fancy new terminal
    is being built, and these procedures are an improvisation,
    mildly unpleasant, and I get the feeling that they are not
    doing much to make life easier, even for premium customers.
    We got loaded onto the same bus as everyone else, so instead
    of the limos and luxury coaches described in the literature
    we had to stand (not good) with the unwashed (not bad) and
    wait until arrivals and economy transit had left before we
    arrived at our stop, the Premium Transfer Terminal, where
    for unknown reasons we had to go through security (lili had
    a corkscrew confiscated) before going upstairs to the famed
    business class lounge, which looked like what I imagine an
    IKEA cafeteria to be. It was perfectly fine, the skeleton
    crew willing enough; but overnight catering was ungenerous,
    and the only after-hours alcohol was Champagne, which
    neither of us particularly wanted. I made do with orange
    juice, lili with Pepsi or the middle eastern equivalent.

    Two hours was plenty, and we were happy enough to get on
    our next plane: another bus, private and rather nice this
    time, up the airstairs (none of the ground staff offered
    to help the oldsters with their bags, which sort of annoyed
    me), and into our nice seat seats, conducive for snoozing
    and other kinds of relaxation.
     
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  4. violist
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    violist Gold Member

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    QR 352 DOH KTM 0445 1145 320 2AC

    Ch. Monbousquet, vintage unknown but recent, was the red
    on offer, not so prestigious nor so tasty as the Bon
    Pasteur. It was slightly green, with earth and root notes
    along with decent acid and tannin - it'll go far and will
    be pleasant once the fruit comes back.

    An Arabic breakfast started with a blintzlike thing with
    halloumi cheese and mint, a turnover with tomato stuff,
    and crudites: olives, tomatoes, cucumbers. That was just
    the beginning, but I told the FA that I didn't care which
    main course she brought, but she misunderstood me and
    didn't bring one at all, which was okay; I just sucked
    down a couple glasses of Bordeaux and went to sleep.

    Immigration at KTM was pretty easy - as we were among the
    first down the stairs (again) and into the building, they
    were just opening up the line: you pay your money, get your
    visa, then it's off into the bright but cold world, where
    amid the madding crowd a driver from the hotel, holding a
    placard with our names, rescued us and our bags.

    It's an interesting almost hour ride to Bhaktapur, one of
    the gem sites of Nepal. You get the feeling you're in a
    slightly poorer India, which is disheartening, but the
    people don't seem too put upon, and we didn't get quite
    the feeling of domestic economic inequality - here, we
    were the rich ones, nobody else.

    There are now two Shiva Guesthouses, one right outside
    the city gates, the other right on the Durbar Square (a
    generic name for a plaza filled with temples adjacent to
    a royal palace, I am told; there are three in Nepal). We
    parked at the one and then paid our admission to the
    pedestrian-friendly enclosed city and trundled our bags
    to the other one, which has a beautiful if rather noisy
    location right by the bell that gets rung all night every
    night by merit-seekers, drunks, and other obnoxious types.

    We spent the next couple days exploring town, all of which
    is a UNESCO-designated site. As we were there anyway with a
    week pass, it was a leisurely and uncoordinated explore. We
    spent an inordinate percentage of our time hanging about the
    Durbar Square near the hotel, which sounds unadventurous,
    but actually it's the best of cultural Nepal within a few
    acres' space; here's the tourist brochure description of the
    buildings on the square -

    Lions Gate, 1700AD Lions carvings
    - sort of underwhelming, I mean, nice work, but I don't
    see why the stonecarvers' hands were cut off after
    they completed the sculptures (supposedly by royal
    edict so nothing so fine would ever be made again).
    I guess my impression might be colored by the dozens of
    rowdy schoolchildren swarming around it while we were
    there

    The Golden Gate, decorated gate of Kali
    - rather small, rather ornate, notable for a guy with a
    machine gun standing guard. He let all and sundry pass,
    so one didn't get much of a special feeling from being
    allowed in (there's the palace and a Hindu temple behind)

    The Palace of Fifty-five Windows, Palace for 1450AD
    - I couldn't see the details of these, as the supposedly
    nicely were too carved ones were too high, and my
    eyesight didn't allow. The photos on the Internet are
    pretty impressive, though

    The Statue of King Bhupatindra Malla Batsala Temple
    - notable for a big bell that got rung frequently through
    the day and more at night, to our discomfiture, as it
    was right outside our room; objectively, though, a
    really fine piece of architecture

    The Pashupati Temple, a copy from Kathmandu
    - copy or not, this was most impressive, especially
    considering that all the copies were hand sculpted
    probably from drawings.

    Somewhat of a contrast is the next square over, Taumadhi,
    which is dominated by a multi-story temple and surrounded
    with tourist stuff. The motor scooters really zoom around
    here, in contrast to the Durbar Square, where at least some
    respect is paid to the no-vehicle status of the town (it
    seems clear that scooters are popularly not regarded as
    motorized vehicles).
     
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  5. violist
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    violist Gold Member

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    The Cafe Corner is the ground floor of the hotel. It seemed
    a convenient choice, and what's to distinguish one place
    from another, and we could settle up in dollars at the end
    of our stay, which seemed (and was) easy and sensible.

    I had a chicken curry with rice that was tasty but almost
    devoid of spice. A little dish of hot peppers fixed that up
    nicely; the meal came with a very pretty salad that I was
    sad to see go to waste, but better safe, et cetera.

    Signature whisky is identifiably whisky.

    lili had spaghetti napoletana, which came smothered in
    mozzarella. For some reason I did not ask for a taste; but
    she said it did the job, as did a respectable red wine that
    I suspect was made in India.

    We had a corner room up on the top, smallish, with odd
    treacherous little curbs that made it hard to go to the
    bathroom without stubbing your toes at least once. Tiny
    cotlike beds equipped with coarse blankets that at least
    did the job.

    A pretty cold night, close to frost. They'd offered portable
    gas heaters for an additional cost, but we figured we would
    survive, plus there was the question of monoxide poisoning.

    Overnight much auditory evidence of intoxication down on the
    square, plus tons of the faithful or mischievous ringing the
    famous bell, whether for merit or for giggles it's hard to
    say but irrelevant to us as we huddled with our heads
    beneath our barely sufficient covers.

    Next day dawned clear and chilly.

    The shower had no divider from the rest of the bathroom, so
    you risked wetting the whole room when you used it. Not a
    big deal, but the fact that the bathroom window didn't close
    was, as it is difficult to take even a hot shower when the
    ambient is 35F. The water heater was an Indian knockoff of a
    Japanese brand; it did work, so no complaints there.

    Downstairs, an American-style breakfast of eggs and toast
    and jam. No meat, which was fine.

    For the day's outing we walked pretty much through the whole
    town, including the oldest part, Dattatraya Square, which
    though picturesque was mostly pretty decrepit, many of the
    buildings in danger of crumbling. Also a jaunt out of town
    just to see what there was (pretty much nothing, and the
    temple shown on the map, our excuse for doing so, was
    modern and not very attractive). After marveling at how
    some of these extremely poor people lived, we decided to
    take a closer look at Durbar Square, clearly the heritage
    that made this entire town a World Heritage Site.

    We got to the National Art Museum in the early afternoon,
    the significance being that the electricity was off, and it
    was too dark for me to see just about anything, as all the
    shades were shut, sensibly, to protect the art. Some of the
    other tourists had cleverly brought flashlights or had used
    an iPhone app to illuminate the paintings, so all was not
    lost, just most, as they tended not to mind having people
    look over their shoulders. On the whole, I didn't get a
    whole lot out of this visit, though. And the grapes were
    sour, anyhow.

    After that, we braved going past the man with the machine
    gun and through the Golden Gate, out to the Hindu temple
    and its water tank, all pretty interesting with primitive
    carvings that make them look older than they are (they
    date to the 16th and 17th century only). You are not
    allowed to actually enter the worship area unless you
    profess Hinduism, but I had my doubts about some of the
    people I saw going in.
     
  6. violist
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    violist Gold Member

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    Airport transfers being included, we arranged for an early
    exit, our driver being the same guy, and as it turns out
    in conversation the brother of the front desk guy and a
    member of the family that owns both hotels. He tried to get
    us to hire him to drive us to Pokhara, but we already had
    reservations for Everest flightseeing and then out of town
    with Buddha Air.

    We were dropped off at the domestic terminal, where two
    scruffy individuals scooped up our bags where the guy had
    dropped them, hurrying us along into the building, where
    the counter hadn't opened yet. Of course, they asked for
    tips, and so they got a buck each - there was hardly a
    choice without making a scene. These two ended up being a
    little bit useful, taking our stuff to the police office
    for safekeeping, for which I would have gladly paid the
    couple bucks, but there was no additional charge.

    U4 101 KTM KTM 0630 0730 B19 2AC

    We were on the second flight of the day, for which they
    announced an indeterminate delay, which wouldn't suit our
    schedule, so they put us on the first flight, which went
    out an hour late; as it turned out, the second one went a
    short while after, but better safe et cetera.

    The Buddha Air schedule is a statement of intentions rather
    than a promise, everything depending on the cloud cover,
    haziness, wind, and whether the airplane wants to go up.
    This is understandable as the company had lost one if its
    flightseeing planes and a bunch of revenue passengers on the
    0630 departure just over a year before. This gave us only
    modest pause, as lili had long wanted to see the mountain,
    and trekking to base camp or something was an opportunity
    missed in the past, if it had been available at all.

    It wasn't the clearest day ever, but when we got above the
    pollution of the valley, the views were pretty good, and
    some nice photos were taken despite the scratchy windows and
    the intense vibrations. Plus we were right by the propeller,
    I wonder who chose those seats. The pretty flight attendant
    was all business but gave a little sympathy to the addled
    older couple that we were and helped us out a little, giving
    us an extra cockpit visit, and so on. I recommend the
    experience - it was on the whole like crawling into a coffee
    table book for an hour.

    When we landed, we were dumped off outside the terminal, by
    the parking lot, whence we had to walk a block back, go
    through security, collect our stuff from the office, and get
    checked in for the other flight, where we were of course
    expected. On the way we met our scruffy friends, with waves
    and ironic smiles all round.
     
  7. violist
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    violist Gold Member

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    U4 605 KTM PKR 0920 0955 ATR 7CD

    A bigger aircraft, smoother flight, and wonderful views that
    we agreed to be superior than on the flightseeing. Of course
    we were going in the other direction, so no Everest, but the
    scenery all the way to Pokhara was at least as spectacular,
    with Fishtail (Machhapuchhre, I had to look up the spelling)
    and Dhaulagiri and the Annapurna massif within eyeshot.

    We had arranged for a car to our lodging, the Sacred Valley
    Inn; it was right on time. Not a big town, and we were there
    in five minutes, where jovial Bishnu got us set up in a
    spacious corner room and showed us up to the roof garden for
    snacks, it having warmed up to a tolerable level by now.

    I ordered dal bhat tarkari, which was as expected but very
    mild; lili's ham and cheese club might have been tastier.
    Our beverages were Nepali Ice, a grainy-alcoholly-tasting
    brew, and Coke. The food took a while to come - I thought
    they might have had the fixings knocking about downstairs,
    but in fact clearly a runner had to be sent out to one of
    the local eateries for it.

    I'm not so sure about the city, which is dusty and somewhat
    unpleasant, especially considering it was whispered about as
    a paradise on earth during my earlier adult lifetime. Of
    course, the record cold and consequent augmentation of the
    industrial pollution by the burning of all available
    burnables (from scavenged wood to cow dung) didn't help.

    The Lakeside part of town is said to be very beautiful, with
    a vista across the water to Annapurna on a clear day and
    Fishtail to the north. We didn't get any clarity during our
    stay. And it's been built up with enterprises geared to
    harvesting tourist dollars, so you can buy all the trekking
    gear, beefsteaks (normally not eaten in this most Hindu of
    all countries), and booze aplenty.

    Tastes. Descriptions from the labels followed by my tastes.

    Royal Stag by Seagram's A blend of imported Scotch malts
    and select domestic grain spirits blended and bottled by
    Himalayan Distillery Ltd. Nepal under trade mark license
    from Austin, Nichols & Co. Inc and Pernod Ricard USA LLC.

    This was sort of like 7-Crown watered down with a lot of
    neutral spirit, a tiny hit of Scotchish smokiness after -
    distinctly underwhelming;

    Bagpiper deluxe whisky blended with Scotch and premium
    Indian malt whiskies, distilled, blended and bottled
    by United Spirits Nepal Limited, Morang, Nepal -
    supposedly the best-selling whisky in India, one can only
    conclude that Indian alcoholics are most desperate indeed.
    All the nasty things that one reads about Mekhong whisky,
    gasoline, rotten plant matter, and so on, well, it's true
    of Bagpiper. Do not buy.

    Moondance was the restaurant recommended by Bishnu, who
    sized us up and sent us to probably the fanciest place in
    town (and probably owned by his friends, and probably the
    source of our food this morning). Everest beer, a fizzy
    and inoffensive beverage that gave me a headache, cost more
    than normal beer does in the US.

    lili had a pizza that seemed to be a reasonable facsimile
    of the real thing; I got the Nepali style duck extra spicy,
    which though chewier than a domestic Pekin duck was very
    nice but cost twice what a whole meal would cost at some
    less tony place.

    Oh, well. She promised to join me in a slightly more
    adventurous meal next day.
     
  8. violist
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    violist Gold Member

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    Orange juice is very expensive at the hotel and comes in
    very small glasses. The plus is that it tastes pretty good
    and is (according to the management) certified wholesome.
    I believe lili had an egg and toast as well.

    We wandered around town and to the famous waterfront, whose
    supposedly beautiful views were socked in with smog, and
    where we were accosted by numerous beggar children, touts,
    and semi-tame livestock until we arrived at what might be
    considered the less tony (but still perfectly civilized)
    part of town, where you can get an order of momo for under
    50c. I seriously considered doing a momo comparison at the
    half-dozen places we passed, but I was perhaps excessively
    concerned for my digestion, and we held off until we found
    a hygienic-looking restaurant, actually one where a tout
    out front had welcomed us some time before and seemed
    excessively disappointed when we smiled and swept past.

    Newari Kitchen is one of the tidiest restaurants on the
    main street; also one of the quietest. lili ordered the
    minestrone, which quite clearly came from a can, but at
    least neither a Progresso nor a Campbell's one. I got an
    assortment of snacks - fried spiced soybeans, which were
    delicious; fried spiced dried buffalo which was like jerky
    but in biggish cubes so hard to chew - made it certain that
    one knew that one was eating dead animal flesh of unknown
    but advanced age; and buffalo in spicy sauce, which was
    still fibrous but eatable. I have no reason to disbelieve
    that these are typical native food items (for those who
    adhere to the belief that buffalo are distinct from cattle,
    the eating of which is forbidden). We finished by splitting
    an order of chicken momo, which cost three or four times as
    much as it might at one of the shacks down by the water,
    but which by way of consolation were certified healthy and
    as a bonus quite excellent. Gurkha beer, which despite all
    the advertisements for other kinds, particularly, oddly,
    Tuborg and San Miguel, seemed to be the standard offer.

    We arranged for the hotel driver to take us across town to
    the International Mountain Museum, a modern structure that
    houses artifacts of famous expeditions and displays of the
    geology, anthropology, and biology of the region. It was
    modern, fascinating (for an hour or so), and not grossly
    expensive. After which, it was said that Sarangkot offered
    the most beautiful views of some of the most beautiful
    mountains, so we went there. Unfortunately it was totally
    socked in. We decided to walk up the (innumerable) steps
    through the Tibetan village to a famous viewpoint, hoping
    that perhaps we might get a glimpse of something; on the
    way a rather obnoxious young would-be guide accosted us and
    easily kept pace with us with his harangue as we panted our
    way up. Of course, he had nothing interesting to offer, and
    neither did the viewpoint. We refrained from buying textiles
    or refreshments from the villagers. The drive back was as
    foggy and unscenic as the way up.

    Back in town, we'd heard good things about Once Upon a Time,
    another place that offered both native and western food, so
    we could again both be satisfied. A boisterous crowd greeted
    us, mostly tourists, with a few more native people (affluent
    ones) thrown in for variety. You sit on these uncomfortable
    cushions at these low tables and periodically shift your
    weight to prevent your feet from falling asleep, but the
    experience is not bad all in all.

    lili had a salami pizza that was unexceptional in any way
    and would not have been surprising in Des Moines. I suspect
    the cheese was made of buffalo milk, though. I ordered the
    mutton biryani extra spicy, and it was very much ditto; I
    needed to request more hot pepper, which was quite hot when
    it came. More of that Gurkha beer, at least better than that
    darn Everest.

    Bone-chillingly cold again, and we couldn't get the room
    heat to go on. Luckily there were enough blankets.
     
  9. violist
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    violist Gold Member

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    We'd budgeted only a couple days here so we could wander
    Kathmandu proper for a day or two; and as the weather
    showed no sign of changing, that was just as well. We were
    driven back to the airport by the same driver and deposited
    at the unprepossessing little terminal, where after waiting
    for a while for the ticket counter to open, we were told
    that there was a departure tax that had to be paid at a
    booth at the opposite side of the room.

    U4 612 PKR KTM 1430 1500 ATR 11CD
    was 608 PKR KTM 1315 1345 B19

    Our flight was delayed for hazardous conditions, but they
    put us on the previous delayed flight (original departure
    11 something). Seems to be common with this airline, but
    given that they occasionally kill people, perhaps not
    common enough. The ATR is comfortingly large compared to
    the Beech.

    From the bag claim you take this covered walkway to the
    parking lot, where you suffer the taxi touts and then
    give up, finding a driver who will take R50 less than
    all the rest. According to the posted signs and placards,
    the going rate is 650 (on the Internet, the word is that
    it's 400-450), and everyone claims that's the firm price,
    until we found someone who came down to 600 (I was offering
    500), and I figured, what the heck, it means more to him
    than it does to me. So we climbed into his junker, quite a
    bit below the already low general standard, and off we went.

    The road from downtown to the airport is also the main road
    to downtown, only it's closed, and everyone takes this
    bizarre circuitous route along dirt roads winding through
    the capital. It's maybe 10 miles to our hotel, but it takes
    close to an hour, with the car coughing and rattling, and
    us fearing that it would gasp its last with us in it.

    Presently it got us to our destination, and feeling sorry
    for the guy I gave him his 650 anyway.

    The Imperial Guest House in Thamel is clean and tidy enough
    though in no way imperial. Juju and Krishna greeted us
    pleasantly and gave us the key to a smallish but okay room
    on the second floor overlooking an alley. A shower in the
    bathroom was no-frills but functional. We were just getting
    settled in when we heard some commotion outside; we looked
    out the window to find that the car that had transported us
    had broken down, and our driver was nonplussedly standing
    by it with a crowd of locals giving him animated advice.
    This went on for quite a while until somehow it left our
    consciousness, and apparently under its own power.

    A couple blocks before the guesthouse we'd seen a place
    with the silly name Gaia, but it was handy and looked clean,
    and the smells emanating were mild but good; we resolved to
    try it, and as we were pretty tired, we did. Plus it takes
    dollars and various other currencies, and we were pretty
    much out of rupees except what it would take to get us to
    the airport.

    The food was good.

    We started with very nice momos, among the best I've ever
    tasted.

    I followed that with chicken curry Nepali style, pretty
    standard but very well executed, in fact one of the best
    curries I have had in years, anyplace; it was about three
    bucks, so I figured I did very well at this meal.

    lili's steak au poivre was not quite double that and not
    quite half as good.

    With this I had a Nepali Ice, about which the only thing I
    can say is I switched right away to the Everest. She had
    red wine of similar lack of distinction.

    Our meal, all we could eat and drink, set us back about a
    Jackson.

    When we got back, we found our room quite chilly but not so
    cold as previous nights had been, and furthermore, the
    little bathroom offered good hot water. The beds were
    covered in the same ratty blankets as we had encountered
    elsewhere, but they did the job, so it was a comfy stay all
    round.
     
  10. violist
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    violist Gold Member

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    I am not fond of Kathmandu, as it turns out. It's dirty,
    depressing, crowded, and money-grubbing, and knowing what I
    now know I'd have stayed longer in beautiful but limited
    Bhaktapur or limited but limited Pokhara.

    We went on three walking tours. The first was through the
    warrens that constitute the market district (fascinating
    but a little disgusting); the second around the Durbar
    Square, which though much more extensive than the one in
    Bhaktapur is ever so much more grotty and dismal. Also
    pretty poorly kept up, so the grand old temples all look
    on the verge of falling apart. And the pigeons ... !
    Our final walk, the morning of our departure, was around
    and beyond Thamel and the various nearby temples, some of
    which are pretty impressive. In our search for temples, we
    somehow got turned around, or so I thought, and it was
    getting late, so we asked a cop, who indicated that it was a
    20 min walk back to our hotel, so we got a taxi. Wrong
    choice. Turned out he took us along streets that I
    recognized almost immediately, and we were just a few blocks
    away from our digs to begin with. Oh, well. Three bucks,
    easy come, easy go.

    We got our traps together and had the guest house order us a
    taxi to Tribhuvan, which trip was a bit quicker as we got to
    take the main road (owing to construction, one way away from
    the city. This was fine, but as we were getting our stuff
    together at the terminal, I lost my neck wallet, which
    instead of being around my neck was in the carryon and
    apparently fell out. Luckily my passport was in my pocket,
    so I did get to go. But it was a loss of 700 USD plus a not
    insignificant quantity of baht, Sing dollars, and Euros.
    Oh, well, a thousand bucks or two, easy come, easy go.

    Speaking of which, security was pretty easy, check-in was a
    snap, and immigration as well.

    The Royal Silk lounge is a pleasant room with almost
    reliable wi-fi and an ever vigilant staff (apparently there
    is a lesser lounge nearby, and everyone tries to get into
    this one instead).

    Decent food, good drinks including bitter orange and mango
    juices, Khukri rum (okay, not so good - too bitter, too
    sweet), Hennessy VSOP.

    Coriander fried chicken was pretty Thai tasting and pretty
    delicious; potato puffs were standard.

    Restrooms are outside and are none too clean. Also cold.

    You have to go through another security before getting to
    the plane; we went a bit early, sensible us; it does take a
    while, and you want to allow enough time. On the other hand,
    the post-security waiting area is very spartan and crowded,
    so you don't want to allow too much time. We had a half hour
    - borderline too much.

    There was this guy from the lounge who seemed impatient and
    uneasy. He seemed to think that wherever he was, the line
    formed behind him. The ground staff indulged him.
     
  11. violist
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    violist Gold Member

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    TG 320 KTM BKK 1350 1825 772 14AB

    No jetways. It's kind of cool walking up to the gigantic
    airplane and up the staircase, though.

    The cabin crew was extra deferential to the guy, who must
    be a regular on the route.

    First Course
    Mesclun salad with cherry tomato and smoked salmon, tuna dressing

    Strange - sort of from Asia in the olden days, when it seems
    that dishes were reconstructed from written descriptions. It
    was food, what can I say.

    Main Course
    Malai curry (lamb simmered in coconut milk gravy)
    Steamed basmati rice
    Palak chorchori (spinach & lentils with cumin and fresh ginger)

    The curry was okay, the rice was better, the spinach and
    lentils were best of all.

    or
    Chicken thigh in bumbai curry
    Steamed thai hom mali rice, stir-fried loufah with egg

    Quite good, but I can't tell what bumbai curry is; it did
    have a ton of ginger and/or galanga in it.

    or
    Seared red snapper hot tomato ginger salsa
    Tossed seaweed linguini, roasted vegetables

    Assorted bread, butter

    Assorted cheeses, fresh fruits

    Dessert
    Chocolate and vanilla creme brulee

    Starch in a cup. All righty then.

    Tea, coffee, espresso, cappuccino

    Laurent-Perrier Brut

    Ah, thank goodness for that.

    Ch. La Branne 08

    This was a totally typical but somewhat underconcentrated
    Bordeaux. I rather liked it with the curried food.

    Beaune 1er Cru 10 (whose? I don't know)

    The flight was perfectly okay, but service was abstracted,
    almost absent. And when the best-looking flight attendant
    is a guy, you know you're on the wrong planet.

    We landed more or less on time and got deposited rather
    unceremoniously at the Bangkok airport, whence we made our
    way through immigration (bored) and to the hotel bus guy,
    who found us on some list and told us to sit tight for 15.

    The bus came and took us to the Floral Shire, which
    advertises itself as an airport hotel but is actually
    another 15 away. It was an okay place whose main drawback
    was no elevator. We were given a surprisingly nice though
    spare room, whose firm and comfy beds were most welcome
    after the trials of the day.
     
  12. violist
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    violist Gold Member

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    TG 600 BKK HKG 0800 1145 380 1EF

    I'd booked this itinerary with the sole purpose of
    introducing lili to first class on the Thai superjumbo.

    We got to the airport to check in a bit early; went to that
    little lounge area off to the left, where a bustly efficient
    agent went and got our documents, then ushered us to a
    private security screening, where lili was unduly searched
    (this took half a minute or so) and then to a cart that
    whisked us through the business class lounge and off to this
    private facility for breakfast.

    You are discouraged from wandering around the space, which
    is quite large, well appointed, and user friendly; but
    every effort is made to keep you pent and comfy in your
    little den. There's this old cartoon of a woman carrying
    her teenaged son into a hotel, and the caption goes, I know
    he can walk, but thank God he'll never have to. I always
    thought it a bad joke, but I felt that way sitting here
    being waited on. Ordering is from a huge menu on a tablet.
    You make your choices, and someone comes by and says, no,
    that's not available today. I went through a bunch of orders,
    noodles, dim sum, what have you, and ended up getting congee
    with pork meatballs, which if you know me you realize that
    that would not be first or second or third on my want list.

    lili had an omelet with ham, bacon, and chicken sausage; it
    was expertly turned out.

    When the time came (pretty late, actually) we were fetched
    by a concierge and shown to our flight. No fancy cart this
    time - too many stairs and escalators I guess, but the
    person walked us over at a brisk pace.

    The problem with sitting in the twin seats in the middle
    of the 380: you really don't even realize you're on an
    aircraft. I suppose the advantage is the unparalleled food
    and wine. Sadly, we were full already, so we just zoned out
    and pretended we were in somebody's den for the duration.
    Soon we were at Hong Kong, where things still go like
    clockwork, and we had the day to ourselves.

    A same-day return on the Express costs the same as a single,
    good for meet-and-greets and layovers. That's what we did.

    I got us off at the stop that I thought would give quick
    access to the waterfront, but when we alit, we found that
    we were in some shopping area that seemed to be cut off
    from the rest of the world by construction. We wandered
    around this shoppers' paradise for quite a while before
    actually getting anyplace before finding our way out of
    the labyrinth and to the harbor. Where it was windy,
    foggy, rainy, and altogether unpleasant. Wandered around
    the neighborhood of the IC and the Sheraton (might have
    poked our noses into the Pen as well, I forget) and did
    nothing in particular until it was time to return, which
    was expeditious and easy. Club-hopped at the airport,
    where the formalities were pretty much zero, and then
    boarded a quite inconsequential flight, where, aside from
    a Courvoisier for me and a glass or two of red for lili,
    we didn't consume anything except bed space.

    UA 895 HKG SIN 2135 0130 744 3CH

    We landed on time and all was in order.

    We dragged ourselves to the Conrad at some ungodly hour but
    were greeted enthusiastically. I got one of my favorite
    spots, the corner room on the club floor overlooking the
    Fountain of Wealth. lili also got club floor, less good
    view, otherwise identical.
     
  13. violist
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    violist Gold Member

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    A couple days of routine as follows:

    breakfast at Oscar's down on the ground floor, where every
    morning I feasted on beehoon noodles and various dim sum and
    the occasional bowl of congee with scallions and Chinese
    sausage, while lili and the other friends we met up with
    generally had the full American breakfast, followed by a
    dish of ice cream (there mostly for the Belgian waffles but
    available plain or as a sundae);

    wandering around town seeing the sights we have seen a
    dozen times before;

    lunch with friends;

    afternoon drinks at the lounge;

    dinner with friends;

    late drinks at the lounge;

    oblivion.

    At some time it became too expensive to stay at the Conrad,
    so we moved operations to the Hilton down on Orchard Road,
    which is slightly less swank and slightly less polished but
    tries to make up with service, which can be very good. Here
    lili shared my accommodation, another corner room but
    somewhat bigger, on a lower floor. We had our choice of
    breakfast in the lounge (pretty good, limited selection) or
    at the Checkers restaurant downstairs (bigger selection, not
    as good but still better than anything you get stateside).

    Meal highlights.

    Long Beach Seafood - this was the main event of the
    gathering, which builds itself around a big crab meal at
    one of the famous seafood joints (Jumbo, East Coast, etc.)
    every year. We hire a bunch of taxis or shuttlebuses and
    trek out to one of these open-air pavilions where heaping
    plates of crabs and big beer towers are the order of the day.

    Each table orders its own, and this year, as I was one of
    those in charge, the offerings were satisfying but perhaps
    more modest than usual (to the tune of $20 less a head than
    other tables).

    We had to have a meat dish, and beef ginger scallion was an
    honest, abundant, and satisfying version, the flank steak
    done a little chewier than I'd like, but made it quite clear
    that you were eating meat.

    Instead of the standard chili crab, we had pepper crab,
    tangy and utterly delicious. Someone requested mantou (I
    forget steamed or baked), which was a nice relief to the
    overburdened palate.

    Fried baby squid got mixed reviews, especially from those
    who are used to rings only. It was a little on the chewy
    side, truth be told, with some of the little tentacles a
    bit overfried, but the flavor was superb.

    Heaps of spinach and garlic rounded out the meal in a
    healthy way.
     
  14. violist
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    violist Gold Member

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    Muthu's - one of the traditional meals at this get-together
    is a lunch at one of the places on Race Course Road, either
    here (which seems to have gained ascendancy among our crowd)
    or Banana Leaf Apolo, which I rather miss from my first
    outings to Singapore with this crowd a decade or more ago.

    A big long table with jolly friends who ordered what they
    liked, and then the dishes came out randomly and were placed
    near or not so near their requestors, and who knows whether
    these got even a taste of what they ordered. What came to
    hand at my place:

    chicken curry - a very nice version, yellowish, spicy but
    not too hot. White meat, for which I give points off;

    mutton in dry curry - my choice, extremely savory, quite
    hot, lots of whole spices; bony, which may have put some
    off, so I got lots of lovely cartilaginous things to gnaw
    on;

    spicy prawns - a dish I was against; it is an extravagance
    and not all that special, the prawns medium-size and a bit
    scanty, though the quite fishy sauce went well with rice;

    butter chicken, which was the usual, but a perennial
    favorite and crowd pleaser, but I think a little less
    tomatoey than what I am accustomed to (a good thing).

    lili ate about two tablespoons of rice and a little chicken
    but I equalized things by eating much of the mutton dish and
    a bunch of the sauce from the prawns.

    The red wine on offer is pretty nasty; beer is better;
    coconut juice is best of all.

    -

    kluau88 was in town, so we meat at one of the many Imperial
    Treasure restaurants, where we were informed that the roast
    meats that they were famous for were all sold out for the
    night, so rather disconsolately we wandered off and found
    Canton-i, in ION Orchard, which smelled okay but was
    ominously almost empty.

    The food was good, not great.

    A boiled peanuts appetizer was really nice, as was a dish
    of salt and pepper whitebait, something one doesn't see
    every day (lili did not partake of either). Our mains,
    roast pork belly and a quarter duck (dark), were tasty
    enough but a little dried out. Baby bok choy in white sauce
    was pretty good. The bill was higher than usual.
     
  15. violist
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    violist Gold Member

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    When it came time to leave the Hilton, the MRT back to the
    airport was a snap, as we didn't leave until the tail end
    of rush hour. Despite our being on a low-cost airline, we
    were quickly processed into the real terminal and were on
    our way in jig time.

    QZ8103 SIN JOG 1110 1225 320 1DE

    We paid extra for early seat selection and boarding, so
    everything was a snap, and we had plenty of room for our
    carryons (there was a cutout at our feet as well). Catering
    was buy-on-board, and it smelled okay, but we passed.

    A short, smooth flight, with polite and efficient service.

    Yogyakarta is not the finest of airports, but immigration
    was pretty easy (just so you have the visa fee in hand in
    dollars), and soon we were out into the tropical heat, where
    we found a genial driver with a signboard ready to take us
    the couple miles to the Sheraton Mustika.

    There we were given a two-room junior suite that looked the
    size of a regular suite anyplace else, two balconies, could
    have slept four. Decent view over the somewhat pastoral
    property. Wonky electricity.

    Being peckish by this time we headed to the hotel eatery,
    where I had a quite tasty herbed oxtail soup (lots of bony,
    rather tough oxtail meat, but the broth was good), and lili
    got the Texas burger, which was your usual overkneaded and
    perhaps fillered meatloafy thing, with lettuce, tomato, and
    onion and ketchup on the side. Fries were decent.
    -

    There is a shuttle that takes you downtown, dropping you off
    on Malioboro (odd transliteration of Marlborough, I think),
    the main shopping road. We walked the length of it and
    didn't see anything particularly interesting, but the stores
    and their constant yammer and hawking were entertaining.

    lili wanted to get some runners for her dining table, so
    we stopped by what was supposed to be one of the nicest
    batik places; being unattuned to such things, I don't recall
    if she bought anything or not. After, we were enticed into a
    so-called art exhibition next door, where there were some
    reasonably nice things for fairly high prices and some less
    nice things for smaller prices. The person on the showroom
    allowed as how he was a student, and we could pick up his
    stuff for a little less than the standard, and the store was
    due to close tomorrow, so pick up stuff quick! We said we
    would come back tomorrow (and didn't).

    A stroll down the road again then up the next one, which,
    surprisingly, was considerably more uninteresting and
    grotty, though there were some slightly enticing barlike
    establishments where it looked like getting whored upon and
    then drugged and robbed might be in the works. Luckily lili
    was with me, and the sky began to rumble, so we caught a cab
    out of there; got back home just as the heavens opened up.

    In our room had appeared a fruit basket that had snakefruit
    (salak pondoh), which tasted like a somewhat aromatic
    potato, some good finger bananas, and an orange that also
    tasted rather like a potato. lili, not being a strange-food
    person, passed on all of these.

    It was time for a trip to the lounge, which offered some
    not-so-good snacks, the best of which was a sort of baked
    siumai. lili asked for red wine; what came was a really
    nasty rose wine, not nasty in the usual sticky sense but
    rather in a having been kept out in the tropical sun way.
    Johnnie Red saved the day.

    For me, Bintang beer, guava juice, and pineapple juice.

    A good sleep after a long day.
     
  16. violist
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    violist Gold Member

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    Breakfast was the usual American stuff, but no pork. There
    were some Asian specialties, which I went for, including a
    beef soup that was considerably better than what the resto
    had offered the previous day. Also an assortment of gluey
    delicious pastries filled with coconut or ground beans, and
    also something I'd not seen before - broken rice baked with
    dried shrimp and brown sugar, interesting.

    We had hired a driver to take us to see the sights and then
    to our next hotel. Turns out that if we'd hired through the
    hotel, we'd have spent more, but there was a points special,
    and we could have had our trip at half the cost (given the
    customary value of Starwood points). We didn't waste much
    time over this but stuck with our plan, which probably gave
    us a bit more flexibility anyhow.

    I was hugely impressed by Prambanan, largest Hindu temple in
    Indonesia and one of the largest anywhere, but lili was
    rather put off by the carnival atmosphere and the sizable
    crowds. And the heat. This might have been the first
    attraction I've seen where they address the issue of
    crumbling infrastructure by issuing hard hats to visitors.

    I could have spent all day here, but our allotted 90 min
    was a good compromise. We rejoined our driver and then
    went and visited the small, pretty Banyunibo temple, after
    which we wanted to see the later but supposedly exquisite
    Candi Ijo up the way, but the road was closed - first by
    piles of brush, which our driver expertly skirted, and then
    by an actual barrier about a mile from the site itself. As
    it was really hot and sticky, we decided not to chance it
    and proceeded to Barong, small dual temples to Vishnu and
    Dewi Sri, a little out of the way but very worthwhile.

    Next, a semi-excavated palace from about the same period
    (9th-10th century) called Kraton Ratu Boko, an extensive
    site and at $13 the most expensive attraction in the area.
    The reconstructions are sponsored by our Sheraton, which
    numerous signs attest to. This is an extensive site and
    required a bit of hiking around. As it's a palace and thus
    built on a hill, the views are very nice. The excavations,
    being in progress, raise more questions than they answer.

    At length it was time to go on toward Borobudur, an hour
    and change westward; we were getting a little peckish, so
    we asked our driver for recommendations for a place to eat.
    He pulled us into Sedhar Kedhaton, a bit of a tourist trap
    (I'd expected this) and an offshoot of a famous restaurant
    in Yogyakarta.

    It's a lovely open-air building with smiling attendants in
    fashionable native dress. The food is decent.

    I had a grilled duck in grandmother's special sauce, a
    quarter of a skinny free-range bird, rather tough but tasty,
    in a sweetish citrusy-soy glaze; a nice punchy sambal helped
    things out a lot and made it go well with rice. There were
    also raw vegetables, which I actually ate some of, trusting
    that the levels of hygiene were up to standard. They were.
    Probably I should have gotten a mutton curry or something,
    in retrospect, but this was fine.

    lili's club sandwich was pretty standard.

    Big Bintang beers were 50000, 4 bucks.

    A leisurely, almost interminable though not unpleasant meal,
    after which we were two hours overtime and hustled out of
    there and to our next accommodation, the Rumah Boedi Private
    Residence Borobudur, which though not far off the beaten
    path is hard to get to, but not nearly so hard as the driver
    who was more or less fine on his home turf but out here was
    hopeless, made it out to be. It was sharp-eyed lili who
    found the correct turn. When we got there and paid off the
    guy, he charged us three hours overtime. Fair enough, our
    detours had taken us past even more abandoned temples and
    other interesting places we'd not otherwise have seen.
     
  17. violist
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    violist Gold Member

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    This is a new hotel complex, actually a bunch of bungalows
    (very modern both in design and execution) around a central
    pavilion where snacks and tea are on offer. Relaxing, and
    I'd recommend it for a getaway even longer than that needed
    for a visit to Borobudur, which is what we used it for. It
    is nicer than the official hotel Manohara, and even though
    Manohara has a monopoly on the highly recommended sunrise
    tour, Rumah Boedi can get you aboard that for a modest fee.

    Afternoon snacks in the public area including samosa and
    pakora analogues, sort of tasty, and delicious though ant-
    ridden rambutans.

    Followed by chicken curry in the restaurant pavilion.
    Little beers were 37500, no big beers available.

    Borobudur is the largest Buddhist temple complex in the
    world, a World Heritage Site that to me leaves other world
    heritage sites in the dust. Hundreds of Buddhas in the
    shadow of Mt. Merapi (one of the more unstable and dangerous
    volcanoes in this part of the world) make for a religious
    experience that moves even the unreligious.

    We signed up for the not cheap but definitely worthwhile
    sunrise tour run by the park and its hotel. An hour before
    dawn a tuk-tuk came to fetch us, and it was a fun ride on
    the bumpy roads in the dark to our staging point, the
    Manohara hotel, where we met another dozen or so intrepid
    tourists for the walk in the dark to the site.

    We climbed, aided by flashlights, up innumerable steps to
    the summit temple and awaited the sunrise, which turned out
    to be filtered by a heavy fog; nonetheless the effect was
    stunning, as gradually we saw the statues coming together
    around us.

    I believe there are nine levels, each exquisitely sculpted
    (okay, if you look closely, some of the lower levels were
    done by maybe apprentices, so less exquisite), and we
    walked around for over two hours admiring, and even so, I'm
    sure we could have stayed longer and seen more.

    Toward the end of our stay, though, the crowds came - those
    who didn't pay the substantial tourist premium for the
    private sunrise experience -, and it was getting quite hot,
    so time to move on. We walked back to the Manohara, had a
    cold drink, and were taken back to our residence for a lazy
    day.

    Breakfast in that pleasant open-air pavilion - lili asked
    for an omelet, and it came with extraneous stuff in it,
    which distressed her until she tasted and it was fine. I
    had a fruit plate - tasteless guava, decent watermelon,
    quite good papaya, washed down with guava juice.

    Altogether too soon it was time to go back to the Sheraton
    for the last night before our flight. The ride back took
    much less time than the ride out, it seems.

    We were greeted like old friends and were given the
    corresponding suite on the ground floor, which meant
    that we had access to the pool from our patios (2).
    Despite the mossy greenness of the water, I took full
    advantage; lili, being of a more cautious bent, did not.

    The free food and drinks at the lounge routine - it is
    certainly glorious to be a high-status member.

    Bed was welcome, but the 0500 wakeup was not. We'd
    arranged for an 0545 pickup - could have made it 0600 or
    even 0615, as it turns out, as emigration is easy, and the
    hotel is less than 10 min from the airport.
     
  18. violist
    Original Member

    violist Gold Member

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    QZ8102 JOG SIN 0725 1045 320 1DE

    Tip: don't go into the international departures lounge
    until they start announcing the flight with some urgency -
    it's boring in there, and the a/c is much worse than in the
    public area.

    Perfectly okay flight, again impressively poised and
    genteel flight attendants.

    Even the wonderful Changi gets old during a 10-hour layover,
    so we tried to sign up for the free Singapore tour but were
    informed that we needed onward boarding passes to validate
    our request; so off we went to the transit desk, where we
    were informed that there was not going to be a Qatar
    representative on duty until 4 pm, so we were stuck bored
    and loungeless for a vast amount of time.

    Back to the tour desk, where we pleaded our case again in
    vain. The SQ people consoled us by saying that the tour was
    nothing special.

    There's a Hard Rock branded bar in the airport, and as lili
    was hungry, we repaired there for a burger for her, which
    was mediocre, and a Tiger for me, which was outrageous. I
    repented and for my second went for an Anchor, which cost
    considerably less.

    Now I was a little hungry, so we found a place in the
    upstairs food court, Kim Chuu, where I ordered beef rendang,
    one of the least spicy beef stews I ever had had, despite my
    having requested it extra hot. I asked for a dish of hot
    peppers, which actually were pretty hot, and I ate them all;
    I left a bunch of rather tasteless and tough meat behind.
    Tiger beer was a little more than half of what it had cost
    at the Hard Rock.

    We eventually went back to the tour desk and negotiated with
    the guy to accept a copy of our itinerary in lieu of a
    boarding pass. Why this hadn't been allowed before and was
    now I have no idea. The tour, a Cliff's Notes introduction
    to a city that I am after all quite familiar with, indeed
    was nothing special. Oh, here's Orchard Road, here's Marina
    Bay, here's Little India. They let us off for photo opps at
    the Merlion. It was, however, better than nothing. We were
    not overglad to be back at the airport (full formalities
    again on returning), but finally we dredged up a QR person
    who issued invitations to the dnata lounge, which is in fact
    pretty decent, with lots of electric outlets, extensive but
    not so tasty food offerings, basic booze, and best of all,
    blessed showers.

    QR 643 SIN DOH 2105 2359 772 2AB

    A shortish, pleasant flight. I don't recall being offered
    or eating anything, and as we had had enough in the way of
    basic booze, we just snoozed in the quite comfy seats.

    Again the bus routine, first stop the regular terminal,
    second stop the premium terminal.

    An 8-hour layover, just on the border of meriting a free
    hotel stay. I suppose we could have insisted on one, but
    that would have meant immigration and customs and transfers
    and 8 hours turning into 5 or 6. Not worth it, and after
    relative feasts on steam-table curries and noodles and
    things we appropriated reclining chairs in a corner for a
    nap. Sadly, our hidey-hole was discovered, and soon the
    nearby spots were taken by assorted others who alternately
    chatted loudly and laughingly and snored drunkenly.

    By the way, they stop pouring wine and booze after midnight,
    but Champagne is available 24/7.
    ==
    QR 51 DOH IAD 0810 1445 773 2AB

    The bus to the plane was nicer, with actual seats and
    curtains and such. A welcoming crew.

    I passed on breakfast except for orange juice and some
    Bollinger rose, separately of course. When I woke, it was
    snack time again.

    The king crab tacos (a Nobu creation) were disappointingly
    small and scanty and with not much crab.

    Seasonal fresh fruits in Qatar were just like seasonal
    fresh fruits anyplace else.

    Califlower soup, creme fraiche and spiced cheese straws,
    pretty good.

    And then a full meal.

    Pea and mint soup; creme fraiche - pretty tasteless stuff.

    An individual buffet of crab cake with saffron, cured
    salmon and kippered hammour - nice presentation, not very
    distinctive but pleasant enough. One wonders where they
    got the crab for the crab cake - not from the ocean, to
    be sure.

    Classic Arabic mezze: hummus, tabouleh and baba ghanoush
    served with Arabic bread - the standard. I liked the bread.

    Grilled Irani prawns with coriander and lemon sauce; basmati
    rice, wilted spinach with chickpeas and artichoke side salad
    - big glorious prawns, firm and tasty. The rice was a bit
    pebbly but okay. Spinach needed salt.

    Fruit was fruit.

    Zeltinger Sonnenuhr spatlese 09 (Selbach-Oster) was pleasant
    if a little unconcentrated; it went with the seafoods pretty
    well, though. lili partook of Le Bon Pasteur again, which
    was excellent again.

    They ran out of the very nice Bollinger rose, whose
    outrageous berry quality kept me amused for a while, and
    substituted a nonalcoholic bubbly that was mostly Muscat.

    Immigration was a snap.

    UA 240 IAD SAN 1758 2026 752 2AB

    There was a choice of peppercorn beef or pasta in tomato
    sauce. No, thank you.

    The Hampton SAN/Sea World gave me a corner room that was
    clean and nice, and despite my having whiled away a lot
    of time asleep on various aircraft I still had a pleasant
    snooze.

    But first a slog down the street in the rain to In'n'Out,
    where I had a 2x meat, animal style, protein style. I don't
    see the big deal about these burgers, which are decent and
    inexpensive, but you too can make them without thinking too
    hard.

    AA 852 SAN DFW 1105 1555 738 16D was 18C

    On this aircraft I discovered that in rows 16 and 17 the
    middle seats were blocked, with a drink table installed over
    the cushions. I have inquired various places, and even the
    veteran AA flyers don't know: of course, the veteran flyers
    don't apparently set foot behind the curtain of mystery.
    Later it turned out that the FA contract requires a certain
    staffing for a certain number of seats, and the easiest way
    to save personnel was to block off a few seats.

    Dallas has Cousins bbq in another terminal; the best that
    weak sister terminal C has is Dickey's. I ordered a half
    pound off the fatty end; this came off the fatty end, but
    the well-meaning attendant trimmed off the surface fat; so
    I asked for that as well, and she had to ask the supervisor
    to come in and actually perform the task. It was decent,
    mildly smoked with almost no rub.

    AA1704 DFW BWI 1700 2055 M80 10B

    An excessively jolly flight attendant kept me in ginger ale
    through the flight, and though I was in coach, it didn't
    feel quite like coach (of course, it didn't feel like first
    class, either).

    I didn't want to face the world just yet and got a very nice
    room on the club floor at the Sheraton BWI (this trip being
    before my falling out with Starwood), where the only
    complaint I have is that breakfast in the lounge was
    advertised but not delivered, owing no doubt to it being a
    weekend.
     

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